Is professional services a good career path? Are you contemplating a career in professional services but unsure if it’s the right choice for you? A career in professional services can definitely be a rewarding path, as it offers a wide range of opportunities for personal and professional growth.
If you are driven, adaptable, and customer-oriented, and if you thrive on solving complex problems, a career in professional services could be an excellent fit. Read on to discover the exciting prospects that this career path holds and how PathWise can guide you through every step of your journey in this field.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the world of professional services, laying out all the information you need to make an informed decision about your career. We’ll discuss what professional services entails, the industries it includes, and the roles available within the sector.
Additionally, we’ll guide you on entering and excelling in this dynamic field and offer valuable tips for transitioning into related industries if you ever decide to change your career trajectory. Finally, we’ll introduce PathWise resources specifically tailored to help you confidently and clearly navigate the professional services sector.
What Is Professional Services?
Professional services encompass various industries and sectors, including consulting, finance, legal, accounting, audit, marketing, and information technology. At the core, a career in professional services involves providing specialized knowledge, expertise, and support to individual or business clients to help them solve problems, improve performance, or achieve specific goals. Professionals in this field often work individually or in teams, collaborating with other experts and leveraging their skills to address complex challenges and drive positive client outcomes.
Some common roles within professional services include consultants, financial advisors, attorneys, accountants, auditors, marketing specialists, and IT professionals. Depending on their specific expertise and service demand, these individuals may work for large firms, smaller specialized organizations, or even as sole proprietors.
How to Get Started in Professional Services
Embarking on a career in professional services requires a strong educational foundation, relevant experience, a service orientation, and a commitment to ongoing professional development. Here are some steps to help you get started:
Opportunities for Growth and Advancement in Professional Services
As you progress in your professional services career, the numerous avenues for growth and advancement depend on your interests, goals, and specific industry in which you work. Here are some strategies for career advancement in professional services:
Moving Beyond Professional Services
Many people in professional services transition to a related field or industry as their career evolves. If you find yourself contemplating such a change, consider the following steps:
Embrace the Rewards and Opportunities of a Professional Services Career
A professional services career offers exceptional growth, development, and fulfilling work opportunities. You can thrive in this dynamic career path by arming yourself with an excellent education, relevant experience, and a commitment to ongoing professional growth.
Moreover, if you ever decide it’s time for a change, your skills and experiences in professional services will provide you with a strong foundation for a transition to a related field. PathWise is here to guide and support you throughout your journey with our professional coaching and career services, insights, and resources tailored for professionals in this exciting industry area.
When it comes to choosing a career path, the world of technology offers exciting opportunities with tremendous potential for professional growth and dynamic career experiences. So, is breaking into tech a good career path? In short, the answer could be a resounding “yes” if it’s the right fit for you. Endless possibilities for innovation, diversity of roles, rapid industry growth, and attractive salary prospects are just a few factors that make a career in technology an enticing option
However, navigating the ever-evolving landscape of the tech industry can be challenging. This article aims to provide an beginning analysis of pursuing a career in technology, covering a series of essential topics such as understanding the industry, getting started, and knowing when to move on or pivot within the tech domain. With insights into technology and career guidance, this post will help you make informed decisions about whether a tech career aligns with your goals and aspirations, or explore alternative pathways that may better suit your talents and passions.
As you read on, you’ll discover more about the technology industry and its remarkable diversity, learn the benefits of cracking into a tech career, and receive valuable guidance on navigating career transitions. You’ll also gain access to valuable PathWise resources designed to support your professional growth within the technology sector, equipping you with the knowledge and tools to develop a fruitful and fulfilling career in technology.
Embark on this exploration of the tech industry with us, and let the informative insights and expert advice from PathWise empower you to make optimal career decisions, ultimately realizing your potential and reaping the rewards of a fulfilling professional journey within the world of technology.
What Is Tech?
At its core, a career in technology involves leveraging technical expertise, creativity, and innovation to solve problems, improve processes, and develop new products and services. Spanning multiple domains, the tech industry encompasses a wide range of fields such as software development, data analytics, hardware engineering, industrial design, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence, among others. Professionals in this industry typically engage in activities such as building tech-centric products, designing software programs, analyzing networks and systems for security vulnerabilities, or designing improved user experiences.
How to Get into Tech?
Getting started in the tech industry requires a combination of education, skills, and experience relevant to your chosen field. Here are a few steps to help you embark on your tech career journey:
How to Move on from Tech?
Transitioning from one tech role or moving outside the industry may require strategic planning and considerations. Here are some tips to help you make a successful career move:
More PathWise Resources
A career in technology promises a world of dynamic opportunities, innovation, and growth. As you embrace the possibilities provided by the tech industry, PathWise remains dedicated to empowering individuals like you to make informed career decisions and achieve professional success.
By accessing the resources and expertise offered by PathWise, you’ll be well-equipped to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of technology, realize your potential, and enjoy the rewards of a fulfilling and challenging career path.
If you’re considering a career switch into the finance industry, it’s natural to question whether it’s the right move for you. With lucrative salaries, growth opportunities, and the ability to make a real impact, finance can be an excellent career choice. But is finance a good career path in today’s changing landscape?
Directly from experienced finance career coaches, here is the inside scoop on building a rewarding career in this dynamic field. Read on for insights into finance industry trends, required qualifications, and how to leverage resources like PathWise to skill up and open doors to new opportunities.
From investment banking and asset management to insurance and corporate finance, the finance sector encompasses a diverse range of roles. As global economies evolve, demand is growing for professionals who can navigate complex markets, manage investments, and assess financial risks.
Within the finance industry, some of the key career paths include:
Gaining the necessary credentials is key to launching your finance career. Here’s what it takes:
Despite economic uncertainty, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects over 900,000 job openings for financial occupations through 2032. Business expansion, regulatory changes, and retirements will continue driving demand. Fintech innovation and sustainability also present new opportunities.
With strategic preparation, you can gain a foothold even as a career changer. Our coaches here at PathWise frequently work with aspiring finance professionals to evaluate transferable skills, pursue training, and land roles matching their strengths.
Switching to finance requires planning but can be achievable with the right guidance. Here are tips to get started:
Still have questions about getting into finance? Here are answers to some common concerns:
Yes, demand for qualified finance professionals is projected to remain strong in the years ahead across specializations like corporate finance, investments, insurance and more. New technologies and regulations will create evolving opportunities as well.
Pursuing a finance, accounting or business-related degree provides foundational knowledge for a career in this field. Complementary coursework, certifications, internships and networking are also key.
Careers in investment banking, hedge funds, private equity, venture capital and corporate executive roles tend to offer the highest compensation but also require extensive expertise.
First identify transferable skills. Seek additional education and certificates to fill knowledge gaps. Pursue transitional roles and use sites like PathWise to network and find a mentor to guide your career change. The investment will pay off!
As you can see, finance offers diverse, well-compensated career paths both today and in the future. With strategic planning and expert guidance, you can make a successful transition.
If you’re ready to take the next step, connect with one of our certified finance career coaches. We’re here to help you gain clarity on your goals, make informed choices, and take actions towards a rewarding finance career.
If you’ve ever worked with a career coach, you know how much value they can provide. All of us face key moments in our career paths– such as a recent promotion, a challenging work situation, or a job transition – where getting guidance from a career coach would be useful. But most of us try to find our own way through these key moments and feel stuck, which can often be frustrating, isolating, and ineffective.
In short, career coaches focus on helping you identify and achieve your career goals. They help you identify the long term career direction that’s right for you and develop strategies to advance your career. In doing so, they work with you to assess your skills, values, and interests, and to take this understanding and reflect it your near- and longer-term career goals.
They also help you create an action plan to help you reach your desired outcomes. Career coaching can be done one-on-one or in a group setting, and the length of the coaching relationship can vary depending on your needs. But what are its benefits?
Career coaching can help you when you’re looking to make a career transition. A career coach can help you identify the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to pursue a new field or job. They can also provide guidance on networking, resume writing, social media profiles, and job search strategies.
Career coaching can also be beneficial if you’re looking to make a more significant transition. It can provide a personalized approach to career decision-making that can help you gain clarity and confidence in your choices. They work with you to develop a plan for your change and gain the skills needed.
Career coaching can help you identify potential job opportunities and create an effective job search strategy. It can help you develop a resume highlighting your qualifications and experience and provide you with resources to research potential employers.
A career coach can also help you create a network of professional contacts and provide advice on social media to increase your chances of finding a job. They can also assist with job applications, provide feedback on cover letters and LinkedIn profiles, and work with you to develop a strategy for using mock interviews to learn more about potential paths you’re considering, surface opportunities that might not be publicly posted, and expand your network.
Career coaching can help you develop the skills necessary for successful job interviews. A career coach can work with you to practice for interviews and provide tips on answering tough questions. They can also advise you on how to manage video interviews, which are becoming increasingly common.
By working with a career coach, you learn how to present yourself in the best possible light during job interviews. It can help you stand out from the competition and increase your hiring chances, securing your spot in the desired company.
Career coaching can help you create a brand that stands out in the job market. A coach can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and create an effective plan highlighting your unique talents.
A coach can also help you create an appropriate online presence and an effective elevator pitch to introduce yourself to potential employers. They can also help you develop strategies for networking and creating relationships in your targeted industry.
Career coaching isn’t just for help when you’re looking to change jobs or careers. It’s also beneficial when you’re seeking more general career advice. An experienced career coach will likely have helped others with almost every professional situation imaginable. They’ll be able to help you navigate your own situation, whether it’s centered on pursuing a promotion, handling a difficult boss, successfully managing a special assignment, or any range of other professional situations. They’ll help you take an outside-in view, something that’s very difficult to do on your own.
Career coaching can be invaluable if you’re looking for more ongoing guidance on your career. A career coach can provide the support and advice needed to make informed decisions about your current work situation or longer-term objectives. They can help you identify your career goals and create a plan to reach them. As a result, you’re better able to pursue a path that’s right for you and find success in that path.
Career coaching offers a great way to gain insight and clarity into your professional goals. It can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, create a solid personal brand, and create strategies to reach your career goals. With the help of a qualified career coach, you can take your career to the next level and reach your full potential.
PathWise provides the full benefit of career coaching to guide you through your unique career development. We help you learn and master career management and execute against your career goals and plans. Learn more about what we can accomplish together by booking a coaching appointment.
Everyone knows that working a job is fundamental to living a successful life. Many of us work hard on our careers to develop professionally, in hope that it will ultimately lead to greater job security, financial stability, happiness and fulfillment. However, considering your career options and where you see yourself next can be overwhelming, especially if you’ve worked for some time and are comfortable where you are. For this reason, a focused and proactive approach to career management is recommended.
An effective career management is about taking control of your professional skills development and career objectives. This can include researching and applying for job opportunities, gaining additional professional experience, and developing yourself through continuing education and training. While it may sound easy enough, many people don’t take these steps because they’re intimidated by the career planning process, don’t know where to start in the short term, or just don’t make the time to develop their career.
If you’re managing your career path, here are some of the skills you will learn and benefits you will reap:
Career management involves setting career goals, so you know what you want to achieve in your career and then work toward that goal. Setting goals allows you to focus your efforts and gives you a sense of direction. You can break your goals into smaller, achievable steps to make them more manageable. This will help you stay motivated and on track.
Goals also allow you to measure your progress and see how far you have come to help you gain a sense of accomplishment and pride. Goal-setting can also help you identify areas where you need to improve, so that you can focus your efforts on where you want to grow.
However, you must remember that the goals you set must be realistic. Unreasonable expectations can lead to disappointment and frustration. You should also consider your current situation and resources before setting goals, to ensure you’re not setting yourself up for failure.
For example, if you’re a recent college graduate, you shouldn’t set a goal of becoming a high-level executive at a Fortune 500 company within five years. This is almost certainly an unrealistic goal and could lead to disappointment if you don’t reach it. A more realistic career goal might be moving from entry-level to mid-level positions within a company in five years.
For more on the process of setting goals.
Professional development is about improving your skills and abilities to be more successful in your current job or to prepare for future career opportunities. Professional development can involve attending workshops, seminars or online classes, participating in job shadowing, or taking on additional responsibilities at work.
Professional development is essential for several reasons. It helps you stay up to date on the latest trends and technologies in your field, develop new skills and interests, and gain an edge over your competition. It also helps you stay motivated and engaged in your work and can open up new career opportunities.
Having a network of contacts is an integral part of professional development. A strong network can help you stay current on industry trends, find mentors and advisors, and identify job or other business opportunities. Building and maintaining your network is an ongoing process that requires effort, but it pays off in the long run.
One way to start growing your network is to attend industry events like conferences and seminars and to actively participate in conversations. This will help you meet people in your field and develop meaningful relationships. Additionally, you can join professional organizations, such as trade associations and alumni networks, to meet like-minded individuals and stay connected.
You should also use online networks like LinkedIn to connect with people in your field. You can join groups, post updates, and comment on other people’s posts to start engaging with your network.
Read on for more on how to develop your career support network.
Above all else, career management allows you to take control of your career. It means understanding your skills and strengths, setting goals, and taking concrete steps to reach them. It also involves creating a development plan for yourself, proactively seeking opportunities, and effectively managing your time and resources.
Here’s where you should start in your career management journey.
Career management may seem unnecessary initially, but it can go a long way in supporting your professional development and job satisfaction. Many means to manage your career are available, so it is up to you to take the initiative and take control of your career. This way, you can look forward to more growth and success in your chosen path.
PathWise provides a range of services for career management to benefit you and your unique path. Growing in your chosen career can be challenging and overwhelming, and we’re here to help you take control of your professional development. Become a member today and allow us to help you!
We’ve all had those days when you drum your fingers on the dashboard and think “I need to quit.”
Maybe you had a disagreement with your manager, your commute was painful, or you were bored to tears. Maybe it was just one of those days when nothing was going your way, or you’ve been feeling you haven’t been doing meaningful work for months and a straw came along in the form of a terse email and it broke the camel’s back.
Before you send that resignation letter to head onto what may or may not be greener pastures, it’s worth seeing if there is an opportunity to redesign your job description in your current role.
Job Crafting is a process of making adjustments in your current position so that the job you have now becomes a job you love again. Those adjustments may be different for each person, but some ideas include taking on an interesting project, raising your hand to join a new committee, requesting a work-from-home arrangement, or setting boundaries with colleagues.
The benefits of job crafting are that you don’t need to go through the job search process (right now), you can retain your stability in your current role, and you can prepare yourself for a future move by boosting your confidence and potentially learning new skills.
Curious if job crafting is for you? Check out these 5 signs that job crafting instead of job searching might be for you.
Often people will jump to start a job search or accept an offer for a new position because of shiny object syndrome. For example, you’re offered a new salary, a bigger office, a fully remote job, or an important title.
However, those jumps don’t always work out the way people would like because a number of tasks that were truly causing their job dissatisfaction are present in the new role too, or they are exacerbated.
As an initial job crafting exercise, determine the one or two most important things that would need to change in your current role to increase your job satisfaction and then assess what power you have to make those changes. Perhaps you can negotiate your salary, work from home twice a week, or approach an old project with a new creative lens. Test out your hypothesis at your current job knowing that job searching can still be an option if this job craft isn’t ideal.
If you have a supportive manager who is invested in your career development, a conversation about job design or task crafting could be welcome and encouraged.
Even the best managers can’t read your mind, so it’s important that you share your career goals and come to your manager with solutions. Set up a one to one conversation to discuss your job crafting plans and provide a clear plan on how you will continue to fulfill your job responsibilities while making some changes to your schedule/deliverables/style that will benefit you and the team. One of the most important types of job crafting is relationship crafting.
Have other team members successfully crafted their roles? If so, there could be potential within your company to make changes in your position as well.
Talk with colleagues within your company that are doing work that interests you or who have a work arrangement you find appealing. Ask them about how they have approached conversations around job crafting with their manager to build your own job crafting model. Or seek their advice on how to successfully work on cross-functional teams or propose a job share.
There may never be a perfect time to job search, but there are life circumstances that make making a change at a certain point in time particularly undesirable.
For example, you and your family are planning a move in 6 months so staying in your current role makes sense for now. Or, you are managing a health issue and need the stability of your current job and healthcare plan. There are any number of reasons it could make sense for you to press pause on the job search.
However, just because you aren’t going to make a move now doesn’t mean you can’t be happier in your job. See the suggestions above for how to think about job crafting to make the short term more fulfilling or a better fit for your life while knowing you have the consistency you need at this time.
Lastly, even if you feel ready to start a new job right now, maybe that new job demands resources to further prove that you are the right fit for the role. That’s where job crafting to gain experience comes in.
Let’s say you are targeting a management role, and your current position does not include any direct management responsibilities. Are there projects you could take on that would allow you to show how you lead a team? Or you may want to move into a technical position that requires you to use specific software or data analytics tools. Could you bring any of those tools into your current role to make a process more efficient?
Job crafting in this way benefits your current employer because they get a re-energized and innovative teammate – that’s you! It also allows you to add new accomplishment-based bullet points to your resume that provide evidence you have the skills needed to take on the next position.
Find more resources about your career journey!
Are you contemplating a career transition? Does a feeling of drudgery start creeping into your system every Sunday evening? Perhaps you’re dreading meetings and projects for the upcoming week.
Maybe you’re asking yourself, “Why am I staying here? Is there possibly something better out there?”
During the pandemic, many people had a chance to step away from their positions and ask these questions. Many found themselves answering, “Yes! There is something better for me.” For other people, the answer is more nuanced, related to burnout or recalibrating their career path.
How to decide what is really the best way to proceed in your career? If you think of your career as a journey, there is the possibility of many options and interesting paths that could all be worth exploring.
Similar to the planning for any journey, I encourage you to define where you currently are, ask, “What is the real purpose of my journey?” and decide if you are on the right path. This article will focus on honing your career decision-making process and the important factors in planning the journey that’s right for you.
Many factors can lead you to become a career changer. It could be burnout, feeling stuck, lack of engagement, or a change in your life situation. Often people have found they desire more meaningful work or flexibility to create a more balanced lifestyle. Don’t ignore the uncomfortable feeling of discontent in your gut when thinking about your career – you are not alone.
Research shows that we master the skills and experiences of a position after a couple of years and will experience boredom and a need for change about every 3 years. Our minds want to grow and learn. Harvard Business School also found that having some sense of meaning in your work is vital to job satisfaction. Another area of huge importance is relationships at work. We are social creatures that crave healthy relationships!
When you are taking a journey and begin to feel lost it is tempting to take the first exit. However, this could get you extremely off course or look like the right path, but in reality, become a dead-end road. Worrying about taking the wrong road often leads to clutching the steering wheel and just continuing in the same direction because it feels familiar.
Before heading out or at least continuing in the same unsatisfying direction, first evaluate the problems with your current position. Then try identifying the best path for you, one that leads towards a destination you are looking forward to experiencing. And how do you do that? Start with an accurate picture of your current situation and explore the assets, values, and motivators that help you define where you would like to go.
If you look at your current role. How is your current work experience? Are you bored and no longer seeing ways to grow and develop in your current career field?
Think back over your career, and you’ll probably see a pattern of new opportunities and responsibilities that offered you growth in the past. You may have outgrown your position. Or you may have outgrown your organization.
Often disgruntled employees discover they no longer believe in the company’s purpose. This can occur if an organization becomes toxic and either engages in unethical behaviors, disrespects employees, or has unrealistic goals that employees frantically try to achieve, resulting in sacrificing self-care and burn-out.
If your current situation lacks growth, you no longer align with the mission and vision, or you do not feel safe or respected, then that is a clear sign that you should consider a job change. If not all apply, then perhaps you can find a way to better align yourself within the organization. If you are unsure, it may be time for self-exploration.
Some people progress down the wrong path and stay too long because they can’t figure out how to get off and the pain is not great enough to force a move. Often the reason is that the path has gone askew and the necessary course correction is not clear.
One reason may be that we have not stayed in the driver’s seat of our career. You may find yourself heading down the completely wrong path doing work that others wanted you to do but is no longer tied to your values and motivators.
As a career coach, I have time and again had clients who fell into positions that used a skill they were good at but did not give them much joy. They agreed to projects where they were praised by others even though it drained their energy.
Does this sound familiar to you? In these situations, it is actually quite easy to follow others since the road is mapped out step by step and looks familiar. People often stay in the same career but jump from one organization to the next, misreading the road signs.
It’s time to get back in the driver’s seat and take control of your own career satisfaction. Start by asking, “Where did I get off track? Where did I stop paying attention to what I found interesting and motivating to me?”
Before exiting, spend your time evaluating if any part of this unhappiness is able to be turned around at your current organization. What if you take control of your choices and lay down your own road with specific directions laid out for others so they can support you on this path? There are often many ways to create more fulfilling options within your own company once you know what to look for and how to describe the path to others.
To more accurately evaluate if your current organization still holds options for you, it is important to be clear on your desired journey. Burnett and Evans, in Designing Your Life, recommend that the first thing to do is build a compass. Ask yourself who you are, what you believe, and what you are doing, and then look for any incongruences. They suggest taking time to evaluate what work means to you, the importance of money, and the value of growth and fulfillment.
Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, uncovered in his research that people who found a connection between their work and something socially meaningful for them found much more life satisfaction. Often we ask the wrong question, “What is the ideal job?” when really we should ask, “What do we enjoy doing currently?”
What is the best part of your day? Start by asking what brings you joy when you play and when do you feel in flow where time just slips away? What gives you energy and what drains you? What motivates you and feels meaningful?
There are several tools to help you with this process, start by figuring out the why. One exercise is to think of times in your past when you had a perfect day and everything clicked. Take some time to notice when and where you have felt most energized.
This could have been during work, a hobby, or vacation. Consider what you were doing and the surrounding environment. Get curious about what you were enjoying, what was important to you, and how you were motivated. It’s often helpful to write down the best parts.
Can you identify how you added value and what skills and strengths you were using? Then compare to assessments of your motivators and what you describe as purposeful uses of your time.
Combining all this information gives you the foundation for uncovering your desired path. If you find that identifying what is important to you, your key strengths, and where you get energy is challenging, I would recommend delving into some structured career assessment tools. If you have gained some clarity about motivators, values, and strengths then you have uncovered the fundamental parts of your career compass. The ultimate goal of this compass-building is to find congruency between the life you want to live and your career path.
Armed with a new lens of self-information, take the satellite view in evaluating your current work situation. In comparing what you are doing now with your new career vision, can you find a tie to some of your motivators and energy builders within your current position, department, or organization? Through the new lens, can you uncover any congruence, opportunities for growth, and learning that is inspiring for you?
At the top of this article, we mentioned other causes of job dissatisfaction such as burnout, boredom, and lack of fulfillment. If these sentiments still resonate, then explore what is missing that is important to you and notice how your energy is being zapped. Remember fulfillment includes not only what you do well but what you would like to keep doing. If it’s clear at this point that you are in the wrong place, then it’s time to create a new path.
Here’s the catch, though. None of this exploration will point to the exact perfect position within the perfect organization. It merely lays the groundwork to help you clarify, evaluate, and choose which paths to explore or cross off the list. You have already started this process by building your compass and determining what you hope to experience on this journey.
You may choose to explore some side roads, tangential paths that are closely associated with a strength, a passion, or special talent. If you have jumped onto someone else’s path, take some time to reconnect with your strengths and skills. As you enter the exploration phase, look for people you admire, interesting ideas, fun professional projects, or even hobbies to dive into and test out possible career options. There are myriad ways to define and act upon the next career path.
When charting your career path, build and use your personal compass to help you understand the career satisfaction aspects for which you’re actually looking, uncover the draining tasks or skills traps and connect to motivators. Armed with a good compass and a clear action plan for your trip, your career journey will be filled with growth opportunities, successful career change options, and places to let your strengths shine.
Check out our other career content at PathWise.io
By Heather Wilkerson
Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Designing Your Life.
Annie McKee. The Happiness Trap. Harvard Business Review.
Shelcy V. Joseph. Should You Stay At Your Current Job? Forbes.
Do you ever think about the career legacy you want to leave?
Most of us don’t give this topic too much thought when we’re early in our careers. It feels like a “far off” concept, and we’re usually too focused on our own careers and on the many other day-to-day activities that fill our lives. But as we advance further into our careers, and start contemplating retirement (whatever that word means to each of us) and maybe even our own mortality, it’s natural to be thinking about the legacy we’re going to leave behind.
In terms of our professional legacies, we create these in several ways:
In our initial “Career Sessions, Career Lessons” podcast episodes, we’ve already encountered leaders who are leaving a legacy in each of these areas:
Very different leaders. Very different legacies. But a consistent theme of impact. Check out our podcast to hear their inspiring stories more fully.
What will be your legacy?
What is a c level executive? In days past, the phrase, “moving into the C-suite” conjured images of luxuriously appointed corner offices (complete with bar tray), wood paneled (and probably smoke-filled) boardrooms, heady conversations that lasted well into the evening, cordoned-off executive dining areas, and a host of top level managers scurrying about at the beck-and-call of the CEO and (usually) his team (and it usually was a “he”).
Today’s world is obviously very different, but successfully moving into a C-level position continues to require much of the same preparation as it did a generation ago.
If you’re on the verge of taking on a C suite executive position, or if you’re merely aspiring to that level in the long term, here are five suggestions for how to better prepare yourself:
Up until now, you may have been able to get away with being somewhat parochial in your perspectives as related to your firm or your industry. You’re perhaps seen as a sales leader or an operations person or a finance specialist. If you want to add value at the top of the company, though, you need a working knowledge of the whole company as well as of the industry in which you participate.
Address your gaps in knowledge and learn about other parts of the business by meeting with your colleagues in those areas, reading corporate-level strategic documents, listening to earnings calls, etc. Make sure you really understand how your company earns revenues, where its expenses lie, what drives profits, what segments of customers it serves, how it positions itself competitively, the state of its balance sheet, the stated corporate strategy, any regulatory frameworks under which it operates, etc.
Take an interest in the current priorities of the various members of all types of c level positions (chief operating officer (COO), chief marketing officer (CMO), chief information officer (CIO), chief technology officer (CTO), etc.) and how they fit together to create an overall execution plan. All of this learning will better prepare you for a top role.
If you still see your move into the top ranks as a few years out, identify opportunities in your current role to learn a new skill or get exposure to a new situation. Seek out other roles that will help fill in areas where you’ve got less of a track record.
Find mentors who can help broaden your perspective. Get input from the head of HR or ask members of the executive team what they find most important to their roles and what they felt they were lacking when they took their current positions. If you’ve got the time to address your gaps through an actual broadening experience, be strategic and seek it out.
Almost all larger companies (depending on the size of the company) have Boards of Directors. Their role is to oversee the organization on behalf of the company’s shareholders. They hire the CEO and approve executive compensation, among other responsibilities.
As a senior executive, you will likely have regular engagement with individual members of the Board, with Board committees, or with the full Board. You’ll be better prepared for those interactions if you seek out opportunities to get to know them earlier on and get to lead or participate in discussions with them during Board meetings. Push for these opportunities.
Getting Investor Relations experience is similar, if you’re in or considering working for a public company. At a minimum, listen to the quarterly earnings calls, particularly for the questions that analysts raise. Read their coverage, if you can get access to it. (Ask your IR department to share it with you.)
Where possible, look to participate in the earnings preparation process to give yourself more exposure to how the Investor Relations team prepares for an earnings release. If you firm holds an Investor Day, read through the materials that are shared and listen to the recording of the session, if you aren’t able to attend it directly.
Look at who your firm’s 5-10 largest shareholders are. Are they institutional shareholders or individuals? Are the institutional holders doing so because your firm is part of an index or have they taken an active position? Have they invested for growth (stock price appreciation) or value (dividend payments).
All of these mechanisms will give you a better sense of how your chief executive officers and chief financial officers are managing your company’s relationship with the Street and investor base.
Undoubtedly, you’ve honed your skills as you’ve climbed through the ranks. You’ve probably picked up some habits as well, not all of them good. Some you’ll know about, some you may not. Either way, seek out an independent evaluation of yourself that goes beyond the depth of the typical year-end performance review.
Ask family and friends to describe your good and bad points. Get a leadership coach. Have a 360-degree feedback survey done on your behalf. As a point of reference, consider Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There for his list of 20 common bad habits that many leaders need to shake.
Whatever source(s) of input you choose, go into the process open-minded. Don’t be dismissive or defensive. We’re all imperfect, even those most admired among us. Commit to always working on your imperfections – and expect to have to work harder to get honest feedback – as you move into progressively more senior roles.
As the adage goes, “It’s lonely at the top.” Indeed, as you move into more senior roles, you lose internal sounding boards and confidantes. You are no longer “one of the gang” but rather are “the boss.” Some people will be able to make that transition with you and others will suddenly view you differently.
The net effect is that you’ll have fewer people with whom you can have open, honest, vulnerable conversations. For this reason, it’s best to put together a “personal board of advisors” as you progress through your career. The members of that group may know they play this role for you, or they may not. You’ll invariably swap out members over the years as relationships ebb and flow, and as your own advisory needs change.
Consider as well retaining a leadership coach, whether funded by your company or by you directly. Having these types of relationships in place will absolutely smooth your transition into an executive-level role, and they will help you stay centered both when things are going well and when you’re feeling overwhelmed or challenged.
If you’re on the brink of a move into executive management, acknowledge that you’ve already made it further into the higher ranks than the vast majority of people will ever get. Give yourself credit for what you’ve done to make it to this point. At the same time, acknowledge that you don’t (and will never) know everything.
Continue to hone your trade and keep working toward being a better version of yourself. We need more humble, empathetic leaders. Be one of them!